This just in—millions of children have myopia!
Okay you already knew that fact, especially since a portion of those millions come into your practice. Of course, myopia unlike a lot of medical conditions has a simple solution, namely corrective lenses. As great as eyeglasses and contact lenses are in achieving near perfect vision, what if there was a way to prevent myopia or slow its progress?
I’m not talking about surgery. Researchers are studying light based, pharmacological, and orthokeratology as ways to keep myopia from getting worse.
Researchers at the University of Houston College of Optometry are looking into the idea that certain kinds of light can lead to myopia in children. Since the rate of kids being diagnosed with myopia is faster than genetics or improved diagnosis techniques can account for, can it be a case of environmental or behavioral changes, such as increased use of computers and smartphones? Lisa Ostrin’s lab at the university wants to see if this is so and she has transformed a room at the school into a kiddie slumber party.
Children ages 7 to 14 and a guardian come to this room to sleep overnight and they are exposed to blue and red light. Ostrin’s lab is examining the choroid, the network of blood vessels behind the retina, to see how circadian rhythm, light exposure and defocus from the lenses effect choroid thickness. One interesting clue that came about was outdoor light, specifically how children who spend more time outdoors have less myopia. Other studies pointed out that red light thickens the choroid and may prevent myopia.
The effects of red light wasn’t studied on children, hence Ostrin’s work. In addition to the sleepover space, the lab has each kid put on wearable technology to record how much light he or she is exposed to.
“We are filling a critical void in our understanding of the role of visual input on choroidal modulation in children, and shedding light on mechanisms underlying optical treatment strategies for myopia control,” said Ostrin, “The research will contribute to the development of targeted treatment options to prevent myopia and slow progression.”
That’s not all that is going on to reverse myopia. There are atropine eye drops that have been used to treat myopia. The drops dilate the pupil, temporarily paralyze the eye’s ability to change focus and subsequently relax the eye’s focusing mechanism. Four separate studies have shown that atropine eye drops reduced the progression of myopia by 81 percent. Unfortunately, the effects don’t last past the first year. Interestingly, another study showed that when the drop were discontinued after two years, the kids who were using drops with the lowest concentration of the medicine, 0.01 percent, had more sustained control of myopia then kids who used concentration of 0.1 or 0.5 percent. Still, doctors are reluctant to prescribe atropine drops, due to issues with light sensitivity, blurred near vision and the child having to use bifocals.
Then there’s orthokeratology, which is the use of specially designed contact lenses that are worn while the child is asleep. These lenses correct myopia and other vision problems so that glasses and contacts aren’t needed during the daytime. A 2011 study in Japan showed that orthokeratology suppressed the elongation of the eyes of the participants. Another study, this one from Spain in 2012 revealed that children ages 6 to 12 years who had myopia of -0.75 to -4.00 D of myopia and wore the orthokeratology lenses for two years, experienced less progression of myopia and had less elongation of the eyes, as well.
These studies show that myopia isn’t just a condition that one just has to live with. Its progression can be slowed and one day, as research continues, it can be reversed.